The Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge has one of the most significant collections of flower paintings and botanical drawings and watercolours in the world. Periodically there are exhibitions of botanical art which are well worth seeing.
The exhibition "Crawling with Life: Flower drawings from the Henry Rogers Broughton Bequest" continues at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge for another month - finishing on 8th May. It's RECOMMENDED VIEWING by me.
The emphasis is on flower drawings and paintings and the creatures and insects that live and can be found amongst flowers and plants - and those plants which trap insects for food and as a means of aiding pollination.
The exhibition is a combination of works from the Henry Rogers Broughton Bequest, the Museum’s wider collection of flower drawings and specimens from the University Museum of Zoology, Cambridge
The images in this post are courtesy of the Museum who also supplied me with a copy of the labels for the exhibition as there is no catalogue. These are most informative about both artists and artwork. I was also allowed to take "gallery room shots" of the exhibition from a distance.
The dragonfly’s iridescent body and membranous wings have been captured with great skill, as have the polished surfaces and curved forms of the shells. Similar to its pair exhibited here, he covers his painting with flowers, including auriculas, gentian and forget-me-nots, and insects such as geometer moth, mayfly, magpie moth and its caterpillar, orange tip butterfly, clouded yellow butterfly, hummingbird hawkmoth, staphylinid beetle, cockchafer, large white butterfly and spider.
I went to see it last month with Cynthia Rice and we both very much enjoyed seeing original artwork by artists such as Maria Sibylla Merian, Georg Ehret and Jan van Huysem.
It was interesting to view the different types of vellum in use by the 17th and 18th century artists. The background of Merian's paintings had a chalky white surface to them and they looked quite different to the original paintings by Merian that I've previously seen in the Royal Collection in the Queen's Gallery
Also to note how vibrant the colours is in Jan van Kessell's oil paintings on copper.
All of these paintings by Van Kessel are on copper: its smooth surface allowed for a more fluid application of paint that aided the depiction of minute details. Less susceptible than wood to changes in the environment, works on copper are usually better preserved and retain their colour and luminosity.
We were amused by seeing Ehret's painting of the Arum given we'd come straight from the glasshouses at the Cambridge Botanical garden where we'd been looking at their rather splendid Arum with its magnificent leaves and spadix and spathe. Only to find a painting by Ehret of precisely the same plant in the exhibition! (Well not exactly the same plant - but you know what I mean!)
Artists with work in the exhibition
Artists with work in the show are as follows. Embedded in their name is a link to their works in the collection - so if you;re the other side of the world you can see why it's worth paying a visit to the Fitzwilliam!
The artists are:
One of the greatest exponents of Dutch flower painting, Jan van Huysum is famed for his lavish, colourful bouquets that were painted with minute attention to detail. He was highly secretive and did not like to share his fine-painting techniques with his fellow artists, for it was these skills that made him much coveted amongst collectors.
The Dietzsch family of artists was based in Nuremberg, Germany, which after London was a thriving centre of botanical art in the 18th century. Barbara, Margaretha and Johann were three of nine children born to the painter Johann Israel (1681-1754), and altogether were employed at the Nuremberg Court. While their brother and father focused more on landscapes, Barbara and Margaretha achieved success through their botanical watercolours, many included birds and insects. The depiction of such subjects was then deemed most befitting for women, for it was thought to require a delicate hand.
This Varsity review by Exhibition: Crawling With Life by Ana Persinaru also provides an interesting perspective on the exhibition.
The Anglo-American, Henry Rogers Broughton, 2nd Lord Fairhaven (1900-73) was recognised as one of the foremost collectors of flower paintings, drawings and watercolours in the world.
His gift, and later bequest, of over 100 oil paintings, around 900 works on paper, 38 albums and many boxes and miniatures during his lifetime and upon his death transformed the collection at the Fitzwilliam Museum
Henry’s grandfather was the famous oil tycoon, Henry Huttleston Rogers who lived in Fairhaven, Massachusetts. In 1912, Henry moved to Britain with his parents and his brother, Huttleston (1896-1966). Subsequently the brothers developed close ties with Cambridgeshire and together acquired Anglesey Abbey in 1926. (now a National Trust property)
The paintings by Van Kessel displayed in the exhibition were part of the large bequest of Daniel Mesman, a wealthy silk weaver from London. He left some 300 paintings and drawings, mostly Dutch and Flemish, to the Museum upon his death in 1834.
Botanical artists are becoming more interested in painting on vellum of late.
This post introduces All About Vellum - a new webpage on this site. It provides an overview of painting on vellum plus tips and techniques and links to more information and suppliers
The new page on this website is located in the EDUCATION section and is called just 'Vellum" in the drop down menu.
It includes all the best references I know about:
If you have any suggestions for more great links to useful resources please leave a comment and state the link.
The page includes a video I made at one of the demonstrations at last years annual exhibition by the Society of Botanical Artists. Shevaun Doherty (who is the new tutor on painting vellum for the SBA's Distance Learning Diploma Course) demonstrated how a pink paint could not be lifted from watercolour paper - but could be lifted to leave a clean surface from a piece of vellum.
Of course if you want to get the paint to stay put you also need to master the art of painting with a barely damp brush!
Shevaun will be demonstrating again at the SBA 2016 Annual Exhibition. Her session on "Painting on Vellum' is scheduled for 1pm to 5pm on Friday 15th April.
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Katherine Tyrrell writes about botanical art and artists and has followers all over the world.
© Katherine Tyrrell 2015-17
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